The region of Aquitaine in Southwest France, of which Bordeaux is the capital, is so rich in deer that public playing fields and cemeteries have to take special measures to keep them out. Aquitaine is, in fact, the richest game region in France, according to the Federation of Hunters of the Gironde, the region just around Bordeaux, so it is not surprising that, for centuries, the great Bordeaux wines have been served with venison, and combined with it in great recipes that celebrate the ‘terroir.’
A good example, from the south of Aquitaine, comes from the chef Nicolas Borombo, of the restaurant Kaïku, at Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Borombo serves roasted venison rolled into a crunchy crust of chocolate, accompanied with a purée of apple and celery. Over the roast is poured a classic Bordeaux recipe that marries the taste of the wine to the meat: the so-called “sauce grand veneur,” and he serves it with a Château-Guiraud 2009, a Côtes de Bourg, which is a wine that did not get classified officially as a Bordeaux in the 19th century, but that has all the great characteristics of one. Produced around the town Bourg-sur-Gironde about 20 kilometers north of Bordeaux, the Côtes de Bourg boast a robust but elegant structure that is the result of a high proportion of Merlot within the blending.
For the classic recipe, many chefs use the saddle of the deer. They marinate it in a combination of carrots, shallot, onion, bay leaf and the same wine that will be drunk with the dish – no matter how expensive. “One must never compromise on this,” insists Eric Frechon, chef at the Michelin 3-star restaurant at the Paris Hotel Bristol. Frechon recommends a Château Le Puy Cuvée Barthélémy 2001 for his venison in sauce grand veneur. This is a Bordeaux from the so-called “Cote des Francs,” to the east of the city not far from St. Emilion and Pomerol. The 2001 is an extremely elegant organic wine at about $100 a bottle. It has a beautiful round finish that joins with the rich heavy juice of the meat. Frechon serves the filet of chevreuil with a canneloni stuffed with truffle.
Bordeaux wines and venison make a marriage made in heaven, whether you bring them together in a recipe or simply serve Bordeaux with the game, as wine expert Benedicte Trocard of the Bordeaux Ecole des Vins, Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux explains. “The firm flesh of venison provides a strong, almost hemp-like taste, one of great power. For this reason, it is almost always served in combinations of strong flavors and spices. So it should be matched with wine that has a real charisma, real power as well. Some Bordeaux wines fill the bill marvellously, because of the strong tannin, well-formed robe, and great fullness of flavor that they boast,” Trocard explains.
Trocard favors a type of Bordeaux called “Fronsac” to serve with venison. Located next to northwestern Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac are situated on the clay-limestone plateaus and slopes of the Fronsac region. Deep ruby red in color, the wines’ strong tannic structure combines with main aromas of soft fruits, often enriched by spicy hints, even by truffle, combining subtlety and intensity. They are ropy and distinguished wines that bring together richness and elegance. “You can see how the strength and elegance make them go well with the powerful flavors of venison,” Trocard says.
Fronsac is on the “left” side of the Gironde river that divides the Bordeaux wine region, and Trocard suggests crossing the river to find some other Bordeaux wines that go well with venison. On the other “right” side, not far from the airport, is the Pessac-Leognan region that produces the thick, almost syrupy Graves wines, which bring together complex flowery noses, heavy tannin, and deep, fruity taste. These go wonderfully with roasted or stewed venison.
A good example is the Chateau Pape Clement 2006. This Chateau, located in the village of Pessac, south of Bordeaux, produces one of the richest Graves in the region. It would complement the spice in a venison dish without becoming overbearing. While the Pape Clement 2006 would be an ideal (and expensive) choice, any Graves with bottle age would offer many of these fine qualities.
There are those who accuse Bordeaux wines of having too much tannin to go well with game; these gourmets prefer a softer Syrah or a Pinot Noir with venison. We strongly disagree; we think a robust meal calls for a robust wine, and a Bordeaux with bottle age offers complexity and what the French call “du squelette,” meaning, a skeleton that lets it stand up for itself. We think you’ll agree.–Andrew Rosenbaum